john_j_enright (john_j_enright) wrote,
john_j_enright
john_j_enright

On the Way to Woodstock, with detail

I finished reading On The Way To Woodstock, by Elizabeth Warren and Sheri Davenport.  I enjoyed it.  It's not the kind of book I usually read, partly because it's the sort of book mostly read by women.  But I'm glad I did.

Elizabeth Warren, who is my friend, was deeply influenced by Ayn Rand's thought, and that influence shows up, off and on, in the book.  The clear-eyed view of what the sixties were really like, including what sixties campus-revolutionaries were really like, is priceless.

The book has a now-story and a then-story.  Jess (female) is a high powered advertising copywriter with some career and man problems.  As if Jess didn't have problems enough, a young woman named Zoe shows up on her doorstep.

Zoe has a couple of problems herself.  One, she is pregnant.  Two, the baby's daddy cheated on her.  Three, she is dying to know more about her birth mother.  Zoe was adopted as an infant, but her birth mother was none other than Jess's deceased best friend: Holly.

As you can see, there's plenty of drama in that set up.  But there's more.  Much more.  Along the way we probably spend 2/3 of our time in the past, and 1/3 in the present.  I didn't measure, that's just a guess.  But Zoe has come to learn of the past, including who her own father was.  As it turns out, Jess promised Holly she would never reveal that.

At the front of the novel stands a quote from Adrienne Rich: "I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail."  It's a good quote for this book.  Jess and Holly suffer a lot of damage along the way, but their spirit and friendship survives.  Holly dies, but her spirit  seems to live on in Zoe.

The important male characters in this story mostly fall into the pattern of Men Behaving Badly.  We see cheaters, rapists, users, a wife-beater, and a molester.  No man that I recall offhand really stands out as a gentleman, as a man of honor, as anything resembling a hero.  So if you're looking for a heroic male, you will be disappointed in this book.  I didn't quite get the sense of male-bashing for some reason.  Actually, at one point, the novel makes fun of some man-hating feminists who have organized "a group called SCUM, the Society to Cut Up Men."

Holly turns out to be a lesbian.  Her struggles - trying to face the reality of her own desires - and then trying to be honest with others about her orientation - are sharply  and beautifully drawn.  One of the great scenes is the moment when Holly finally finds it in herself to approach another woman to whom she is powerfully drawn:

"I walked across the road, each step a victory of passion over fear... Then I saw her, standing on he balcony, staring out.  The wind was blowing her hair and she looked postiviely heroic with her face to the wind and the sun, like a character in an Ayn Rand novel.  I caught my breath and went out.  She didn't see me at first, then she turned and smiled.  At me."

Jess is straight but keeps hooking up with guys who are good for her career but bad for her.  By the end of the book she seems to be getting some insight into the problem and into the lack of self-caring that is driving the problem.

The book is very often funny.  Here is what Jess says when she surmises that her blind date is strictly gay:  "My suspicions were confirmed when his eyes met mine.  The sun would burn out before this man took a woman to bed."

Here's a bit of health irony: "'I've been eating better, you know, natural foods without preservatives,' she said as she lit a Marlboro and blew a puff of smoke over her shoulder."

As for the plot itself, the story of the friendship is a series of individually fascinating episodes that play out the developing relationship and its ups and downs.  A lot of the incidents sound like they are based on something that really happened, so loaded are they with telling period detail.  The story of Zoe and Jess in the present is more tightly constructed since it takes place over just a few days., but the progress in the present is tied to the retelling of the past, making for a complicated narrative structure.

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